Scullyfied Simpsons: “Maximum Homerdrive” (Season 10, Episode 17)

“If you wanna be my lover
You gotta get with my friends
Make it last forever
Cos friendship never ends…”

“Don’t you have school?” “Don’t you have work?” “Ah, touche.” – Homer and Bart, recognizing just how silly these plots are getting.

Airdate: March 28th, 1999
Written By: John Swartzwelder.
Plot: The Simpson family (bar Lisa) go to the Slaughterhouse, a steakhouse where the waiters kill the cow in front of the patrons. One menu item is a 16lb steak that only two people finished – Tony Randall and trucker Red Barclay. Homer decides to take on Red… but while Homer loses, the contest doesn’t end too well for the trucker. Feeling remorseful, Homer decides to take on Red’s last route to Atlanta, and Bart hops on for the ride.

Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa decide to install a new doorbell – one that plays “Close to You”. Their patience to have somebody ring the doorbell wears thin, however, and eventually Lisa takes the plunge… one that will ultimately prove detrimental to the neighborhood’s sleep schedules.

Review:

Oh, yeah! Set your amps to max, turn your hairdryers to Max Power, switch your radio over to Max FM, and take your son Max over to Lake Destiny, because we’re in for our second Maximum episode in a row! Time to shift it into “Maximum Homerdrive!”

Through my life, the “road trip” has been a favorite pastime of mine. Thus, episodes of TV shows revolving around road trips seem to lure me in. And I have to admit it – “Maximum Homerdrive” is actually an episode I rather like. Yeah, it’s silly, contains a rather thin plot, and probably the pinnacle of “Homer Gets A Job” plots that dominate Season 10. But, for some reason, I get a nostalgic feeling with this episode.

Under a critical lens, though… how does it hold up?

Well, as I mentioned before, this episode is probably the quintessential “Season 10” episode – Homer gets a silly job for… reasons, an over-the-top plot twist gets involved, and he acts like an impulsive madman through the episode. Yeah, it ain’t winning any awards there.

The job comes in at the Slaughterhouse (right on the nose there, writers), where Homer finally meets his eating match with Red, the trucker. While a steak big enough that Homer can’t eat it does sound preposterous (might we remember, the sign said “all you can eat”), I can take it with a grain of salt and appreciate the challenge to the status quo of our “hero” eating damn near everything in sight. That, and it is aided by the fact that the one guy who outeats our hero dies. No, seriously – he eats, finishes his food, and goes into the wild blue yonder. I can’t help but feel like this is strangely meta. (Homer freaking out that he’s become “everything he hated”? Eh, make of that what you will.)

With Red dead, Homer takes over his trucking route, which I guess is admirable and remorseful. Hey, I can see him as a trucker more than a secret agent. Bart joins along for… I dunno, comic relief? Yeah, that’s certainly a bit curious. It doesn’t seem like they need him in the plot – it just feels like Swartzwelder wanted the two to bond a bit more, or something. A bit superfluous, honestly.

Still… I guess I can go with it. That is, if Bart did anything. He instead serves as our hero’s sidekick. So, filler? Or just a desire to have two sides of wacky hijinks? You make the call! Remove him from the episode – there’d be little difference. In fact, most of the second act is “trucker filler” – culminating in Homer combining pep pills and sleeping pills to drive through the night. Unfortunately, it fails, giving him a fatal heart attack, driving the truck over the side of a cliff, killing Bart, horrifying a nation, and tying up the NTSB and the FTC for weeks.

OK, the show wouldn’t do that even when it was firing on all cylinders. Still, Homer falls asleep, and the truck’s autopilot saves the duo before stopping at a gas station. The truckers confirm they all have it, and tell him that it’s a secret that could cost them their jobs if exposed to the general public. Because… hey, this show needs tension that isn’t between our main characters. Character driven plots? Nah – we need plot-driven characters!

Naturally, Homer blabs about it almost immediately. The truckers try and take Homer off the road, and the duo escape by breaking so hard, they flip over a convoy of truckers. Hey, last time, he survived a scenario that should’ve drowned/suffocated/bludgeoned him, so this is nothing compared to that.

And, yes, I know this review seems more like a plot summary rather than a character analysis or something like that. Well, that’s a problem with a lot of the “middling” Scully-era episodes – the characters really just go from “point A” to “point B” to “point C”. There’s little rhyme or reason behind it, and the character exploration is light, at best.

Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa take up their own exciting hobby… by getting a doorbell. Yeah, that happens again – Homer does something outlandish, and Marge winds up with a rather mundane plot. It’s not as filler-riffic and boring as “Sunday Cruddy Sunday” – the choice of “Close To You” as the doorbell chime is a cute callback to “The Way We Was” (although that’s one of my favorite episodes), and there actually is some character tension between Marge and Lisa. That, and there is a sort of “meta” aspect here. It’s a mundane plot, but they handle it well enough.

Uniting the two plots is that, ignoring the silliness of the ending of the A-plot, this is actually a funnier episode than the two previous ones. Scenes such as the truck-driving music, Marge ordering garlic sticks to hear the doorbell, and the autopilot ejecting itself when confronted with the wall of trucks certainly take the edge off of this episode’s flaws. That, and those flaws aren’t as aggravating here as they are in “Make Room For Lisa” or “Kidney Trouble”.

And that helps to explain why I’m more forgiving of this episode. It’s far from perfect, but I guess it’s a serviceable, funny half-hour of The Simpsons. Definitely gonna be in the top half of Season 10.

Tidbits:

  • Love the fact that Dr. Hibbert owned a 12% share of the Slaughterhouse – which actually influenced the episode’s plot. Apparently, you shouldn’t eat a steak the size of a boogie board.
  • Admittedly baffled at Homer not finishing his first dinner – in fact, he dumps it on the floor. Consider it a mark to how this character has changed, I guess.
  • “It ate everything!” Nice little joke as part of the drive-thru, but personally speaking, it’s no “Everybody’s dead, Dave.” “Wait… are you tryin’ to tell me everybody’s dead?” “…I should’ve never let him out in the first place.”
  • Gil Gunderson makes another appearance as the Senior Ding Dong salesman, ruining his shoes by stomping on a flaming bag in front of a store door display. I guess it’s funny, but it’s the same joke again. Honestly, I almost preferred the new age store owner from the last episode… almost. (That, and Senior Ding Dong did make me laugh at the end.)
  • By the way, this episode aired the same night that Futurama debut. The opinion that this show’s quality cratered at the same time Futurama debut is rather widespread, and honestly, does make sense. After all, Matt Groening was putting his effort into his new brainchild… that would be screwed over by FOX.
Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: I really liked the scene in the Slaughterhouse proper. With the exception of Homer taking a long time to put together that he’s sitting next to Red Barclay, pretty much every joke connected.

Least Favorite Scene: Plese refer to the .gif above. (Yes, even the autopilot ejecting itself can’t redeem that part of the scene.)

Jerkass Homer Meter: 3. New job, arrogance, and idiocy? Check, check, and check. Also, he threw the food on the floor. It seems like a minor complaint, but jeez.

Zaniness Factor: 4. The truck drives itself and flips. The driving itself? Prescient, if silly. Flipping? That’s a bit too stupid for my tastes.

Score: 6. It’s a passable half-hour, but not one that’s gonna enter the record books for “best episode ever.”

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